“Professor Freedom” Observes the First African-American Cotton Pickers’ Day

Glover picking cotton in old frayed straw hat and Professor Freedom garb
Glover picking cotton in old frayed straw hat and Professor Freedom garb/Photo Courtesy of Clarence Glover Jr.

By Norma Adams-Wade
Columnist
 

Professor Clarence Glover Jr, also known as “Professor Freedom,” wears many hats that include Dallas cultural diversity educator, Black history scholar, African heritage drummer, libation ritualist, minister, children’s book author, and youth mentor. But one of his proudest hats is the old frayed straw he wears when he’s working the land, tending to his backyard chickens, and caring for his fields of cotton.

Yes, you read correctly: cotton–that vilified crop that has been the bane of Black folk’s existence for hundreds of years.

Glover long has insisted that his fellow African-Americans have it wrong when they view cotton as the enemy. The Grambling State University and Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology graduate is prepared for the pushback he often gets from those who strongly denounce picking cotton. He asserts in lectures that the shame is not that Black people picked cotton. The shame is that they were not PAID for that honest work, he says.  

Glover in other traditional garments and hat, spinning a bracelet from cotton/Photo Courtesy of Clarence Glover Jr.

So, Glover has taken the legal steps and instituted the First African-American Cotton Pickers’ Day through the National Day Archives. The day will be Monday October 26, 2020. Observance will include several activities, and the public is asked to wear something 100 percent cotton that is black or white or both.

The day will pay homage to Americans of African descent who raised and picked cotton during slavery and Jim Crow, who laid the foundation that formed America’s economic system from the 1830s to 1960s, but who did not get the credit they deserve for paying such a significant role in building the American economy. That era made cotton king, but did not share the benefits with those African-Americans who performed the labor and helped produce one of the nation’s vital commodities.

Here are details of the day: African-American Cotton Pickers’ Day will be observed the fourth Monday of each October and also will be known as “Cotton Monday.” At around 10 am, Glover will lay a hand-made wreath of cotton at Freedom Cemetery, 2525 N. Central Expy at Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, in memory of American descendants of Africa who America neglected to compensate for their cotton labor. The day has its own song (Lead Belly’s 1940 “Cotton Field”) and food (Smoked turkey with “Hoppin’ John”/mainly black-eyed peas and rice). Homes, schools, organizations, and faith groups are urged to participate and research cotton.

The date was picked because it represents the height of the cotton-picking season and how that part of the year affected the lives of American descendants of Africa, Glover said. The day also will recognize the history of West African cotton which long has been a part of that culture. Additionally, the day will encourage all Americans to study and appreciate Black America’s contribution to the economy’s cotton industry and its resulting impact on cultural, political, educational, and religious life in America.

“If we had harvested diamonds, would we throw away the diamonds once the institution of slavery was ended?” Glover asked. “African-Americans must understand and realize that cotton is as valuable as diamonds are to our American economic system. And we played a major role in that… We must understand the central role cotton played in slavery, building our nation, Civil War, Emancipation, and ultimately Juneteenth.”  

Reversing misgivings will take deliberate charge of heart, Glover says, reciting his familiar maxim: “Taking the chains off your brain, so your mind can work.” Growing up in his native Shreveport, Louisiana, Glover often picked cotton and tended crops with family elders on his family’s farm land. He inherited a strong respect for the land and its produce. He says cotton–called King Cotton and White Gold–has a deep southern history. Dallas was the nation’s largest inland cotton market and is where the landmark Dallas Cotton Exchange building was located at St. Paul and San Jacinto streets downtown. Despite efforts to save it, the landmark sadly was imploded in 1994. To learn more, call 214-546-3480, email clarencegloverjr@aol.com.